On looking round, I was greeted by a somewhat dishevelled male, he wearing a heavy tattered overcoat – and something akin to a cheery, if not an extremely tired smile.
I was shocked to discover that the character in question was one of my former corporal’s, one who had fought alongside me both in Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands – one who was affectionately referred to as ‘Chalky’.
‘Chalky White’ completed twenty-two years service as a soldier – and a damn fine one he was too, yet he succumbed to ‘Flashback’ and then the ‘bottle’. With that, his marriage hit-the-wall and he in turn, hit-the- streets, that appalling void at the end-of-the-world – and a point of no return for many.
We enthusiastically chatted for a while and I then offered to secure him accommodation and a hot meal, he said he was quite content to stay with his ‘friends’ and see the night out, as all other nights – on the streets – and therefore not to worry about him.
I felt quite pathetic when I slipped a ‘twenty’ into his freezing right hand, this man had been one of the bravest and fittest I knew when the Ulster troubles were at their height, yet, here he was, on ‘Skid Row’ with nowhere to go.
We couldn’t exchange addresses because he didn’t have one, or that of an email address or even a telephone number. ‘Chalky’ existed on God’s tolerance and on a small portion of a paltry Armed Forces pension. At that precise moment, my existence, similar to my outlook – was to change forever.
Since that astonishing moment, I have given my time to former soldiers such as ‘Chalky’ and subsequently, never looked back. The desperate and confusing melancholy I once endured has now long since gone – and thinking about ‘me’ has taken second-place to thinking of others.
People experience far worse maladies than that of my cousin or I, if one senses an outlet or opportunity through mixing with and/or enabling others…then a richer prize in life you may not receive.
I shall never look back to the grimmer times – too many people have much worse situations to suffer than I – time therefore to reach forward and embrace the future – it’s in all our interests to do so.
Irrespective of personal circumstances, to boldly step out of the darkness and enjoy the splendid iridescence thrown-off from one’s much deserved longevity, remains a human right, and not solely a privilege – the realisation of which lies entirely in our hands – happy retirement to all readers!